From our reviewers: July 23

Last updated 05:00 23/07/2012

From The Southland Times book reviewers.

A Bloke For All Seasons – The Peter Yealands Story
By Tom Percy (Wily Publications, RRP $35)

Reviewed by Mark Hotton

Peter Yealands is an extraordinary man. He has been able to squeeze in the lives of at least four people and is still going.

You might not have eaten his mussels, you may not have drunk his wine, but you'll certainly appreciate his contribution to New Zealand's primary industries.

The Marlborough entrepreneur has made significant contributions to the aquaculture (a pioneer in the mussel industry), deer farming, forestry and wine (Yealands Estate is the biggest privately owned vineyard in the country) industries.

I heard him speak at a conference two years ago, and the rough looking white bearded and long-haired bloke held the audience's attention with his tales. Yealands is a man who does his thinking on his tractors and diggers. His grizzled appearance means he looks like someone you'd love to have a beer or two with.

His story is a cracking yarn. Which is a pity, because the book is a bit clunky.

There's nothing wrong with the material, it just doesn't flow well.

The author uses his voice to tell Yealand's story, which is fine, but then has him tell parts of it that are italicised. So instead of a compact distilled story, it's more like a This is Your Life show, with the narrator reading the core storyline, and having others tell more intimate stories.

Choosing just one style of narration might have been more suitable.

Caribou Island
By David Vann (Penguin, RRP $30)

Reviewed by Naida Mulligan

This is a debut novel, but Alaskan author David Vann is already a veteran writer of note. It appears he is an adventurous freelance journalist and has also published a memoir as well as a well-acclaimed collection of short stories, Legend of a Suicide. Likewise, Caribou Island comes critically acclaimed and has already been serialised for BBC Radio 4. Vann is currently a professor at the University of San Francisco and spent three months earlier this year teaching at Victoria University in Wellington.

Despite all this, I was not going to enjoy this novel. The blurb and all the promotional material that came with it painted the novel as rather bleak. It was practically possible to predict what I was sure would be a bleak ending. However, as we all know, it's the journey that's important, not necessarily the outcome, and Vann's writing soon had me sitting up and taking notice, keen to read further.

Set in an Alaskan winter, unravelling marriage, life unrequited (I just made this phrase up but to me it means life not living up to expectations) and certainly some unrequited love as well.

Gary never seems to fulfil any of his plans and his wife of 30 years, Irene, feels that he blames her. His latest project is building a retirement cabin on remote Caribou Island. He has left it a little late in the season to get started, yet is hell bent on getting it completed before the winter really sets in. Irene, facing her own demons, doesn't want any part of it but is determined to keep her marriage together and goes along with the plan. Meanwhile, their daughter Rhoda is dreaming of marriage to her dentist partner, Jim, who seems to have other ideas. A good read about love and disappointment.

Waiting for Robert Capa
By Susana Fortes (HarperCollins, RRP $27)

Reviewed by F Mulligan

In the 1930s, young Gerta Pohorylle, like many others, finds herself an emigre in Paris. Jewish Gerta had managed to slip out of an increasingly hostile fascist Germany. Adrift, eking out a living, she mixes with a vast array of refugees, intellectuals, artists and political activists.

Amid all of this is her relationship with a young Hungarian, Andre Friedmann. Andre is a photographer and as their relationship deepens, Gerta helps to market his work and develops her own skills and style of photography.

In order to increase name appeal for their product, they develop the persona Robert Capa. This persona takes off and soon Andre is Robert Capa. Then comes Spain's Civil War, and the launching of Robert Capa as a new style war photographer.

The author calls Spain's Civil War "the last war one could choose sides on". Those thousands who went to fight fascism did mainly out of idealism. Likewise, Robert Capa and Gerta Pohorylle (now known professionally as Gerda Taro) are drawn into the conflict, their relationship damaged and lives changed completely.

Translated from the Spanish original, half biography, half love story, the book tells the tale of Robert and Gerta's relationship, as well as Robert's development as a recognised war photographer, and is written as homage to them and the other war photographers.

Five Foot and Fearless
By Liz Williams (Penguin, RRP $40)

Reviewed by Naida Mulligan

She's small and, by her own admission, not particularly feisty, but Liz Williams has what it takes to be a member of New Zealand's Armed Offenders Squad.

This is Williams' second non-fiction book, the first being about her time as a CIB detective. If this latest book is anything to go by, I'm sure the previous is an eye opening, informative and very interesting, humorous read. Williams has been in the New Zealand police for 17 years and held all manner of positions. She is married to a fellow officer and they have one son. Perhaps lacking in stature, Liz does not lack courage or a sense of adventure. Her story is fluent and funny. If you're at all interested in policing or specifically the training and activities of the AOS, then this autobiography is for you.

A superb read that will keep you chuckling.

Highly recommended.

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